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UK must set out strategic vision for medical research to retain world-class competitive edge

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by Cancer Research UK | News

14 September 2011

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Cancer Research UK is launching a report today urging the Government to set out a clear vision for research and innovation (in its forthcoming strategy), demonstrating how the UK will provide a stable environment for medical research to enable life sciences to be a key driver of economic growth.

The report, Building the Ideal Environment for Medical Research, outlines the vital elements that should form the core of a strategy to deliver on the Government commitments to support medical research in the 2010 Spending Review, and the 2011 Plan for Growth.

The recent Higher Education White Paper announced the Government’s intention to develop a research and innovation strategy by the end of 2011. This strategy development provides an important opportunity for the Government to outline how it plans to develop a long-term supportive environment for medical research.

Research is often a complex process, requiring long-term commitment and support from Government. It can take several years for most research projects to start benefiting patients. With sustained investment hooked to a strategic vision, years of valuable research will translate into improvements in preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases such as cancer – ultimately increasing survival.

Cancer Research UK spent £332million on research in 2010/2011. In the UK one in every six cancer patients is involved in research, representing 42,000 cancer patients per year. Three quarters of these cancer patients, more than 30,000, are enrolled into a Cancer Research UK-funded trial.

Professor Sir John Bell, Academy of Medical Sciences president, said: “No other country enjoys the outstanding opportunities for medical research represented by the UK’s medical research charities, researchers, medical science industries, universities and NHS. With the right policy environment medical science can form a central plank of a new knowledge economy that provides vibrant economic growth and improves health.”

Lord Willis of Knaresborough, chair of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), said: “AMRC and our 127 members welcome this report and its proposals for sustaining and strengthening the UK research environment. Last year our members invested over £1 billion into medical research in the UK. Charities are committed to supporting a thriving medical research environment as part of a diverse partnership of public and private funders.

“We urge the government to consider these practical and well-evidenced recommendations put forward by Cancer Research UK as they develop their research and innovation strategy.”

Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said: “The UK is incredibly privileged to have funders like Cancer Research UK supporting science here. If we want them to stick around, the Government has to take practical steps to make this country a better place to do research – because you can bet that our competitor nations are going to, even if we don’t.”

Nigel Gaymond, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), said: “The BIA welcomes the publication of this report as it re-emphasises the need to deliver policies that support collaboration in terms of scientific research and translating that research into market-ready products.

“It also reminds us of the importance of the funding mix; that bringing together expertise from industry, academia, charities and the health service, along with funding from public, private and philanthropic sources, can help make the UK a uniquely brilliant place to develop new medicines.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “As a major funder of cardiovascular research in the UK, the British Heart Foundation entirely endorses this report. Our own researchers have told us that despite having potentially the best environment for it in the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to carry out timely and informative clinical research.

“The continuing complexity of research regulation underlines a pressing need for the Government to establish a single regulator that will speed up research. It will mean the UK remains at the forefront of medical research and NHS patients are the first to reap the benefits.”

Harpal Kumar, CEO of Cancer Research UK, said: “Although Cancer Research UK does not directly receive any Government funding for its research, Government support for medical research more generally is a critical driver of the health and wealth of the nation. It’s vital that the Government builds on recent commitments in the spending review and Plan for Growth through its research and innovation strategy, announced in the Higher Education White Paper.

“The Government strategy should recognise the value of the range of medical research funders in the UK – charitable, public and private – and encourage innovation through supportive infrastructure, a proportionate regulatory regime, and ensuring we continue to attract the very best people into medical research.”

“We hope that in this tight financial climate, the strategy will show investors, including charities, industry and international funders, that the UK is not only committed to supporting a stable environment for medical research now, but also that it is committed to enabling the life sciences to be a key driver of economic growth in the future.

“At a time when other countries are increasing their investment in science, it has never been more important to develop a sound science strategy that plays to our unique strengths in the UK, including the NHS, the research charities and our world-class universities, and that will enable us to remain competitive on the international stage.”


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